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VCU receives $8.8M to support employment of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

A Virginia Commonwealth University professor has received two major research awards totaling $8.8 million to coordinate a dozen studies across four universities that will focus on how to best provide training and employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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By Brian McNeill

A Virginia Commonwealth University professor has received two major research awards totaling $8.8 million to coordinate a dozen studies across four universities that will focus on how to best provide training and employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Paul Wehman, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the School of Medicine with a joint appointment in the Department of Counseling and Special Education in the School of Education, received two five-year $4.4 million awards from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research in the U.S Department of Health and Human Services.

“These two major research grants will provide synergy for VCU to be the predominant leader in the United States in the area of employment for individuals with intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities,” said Wehman, who is also director of a VCU Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Employer Practices for Individuals with Disabilities as well as director of the VCU Autism Center for Excellence.

The first award, “Employment of Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD),” involves a consortium of researchers at VCU, as well as Vanderbilt University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Kent State University, and includes six multiphase studies that will examine the effectiveness of different evidence-based interventions to support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in competitive employment. The goal is to help reduce the continuing high levels of unemployment among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

One of these studies will be conducted in partnership with Dominion Energy in the Richmond area, enrolling individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities into different jobs and seeking the best strategies for recruitment, training, job placement and retention. The new center will work closely with the Dominion Energy DiverseAbility Employee Resource Group.

The second award, “Transition to Employment for Youth with Disabilities,” will also involve research at VCU, Vanderbilt, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Kent State. It will focus on pre-employment training for younger adolescents, postsecondary and supported college education training for universities that are serving students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as internships for youth with emotional, learning and behavioral disorders.

One of these studies, to be conducted at VCU, will investigate the effectiveness of an internship program called Start on Success that incorporates a career and technical education course followed by paid work experiences for high school students with psychiatric or learning disabilities. The focus of the program is to keep students at risk of dropping out to remain in school and graduate.

“We congratulate Dr. Wehman and his team for this exciting work and grant award. This research will address a critical need for our society — the employment of those with disabilities and build the diversity of our workforce,” said Peter Buckley, M.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine and the VCU Health System executive vice president for medical affairs.

Andrew Daire, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education, said the school is excited about Wehman’s work and the work of the VCU Rehabilitation Research and Training Center.

“RRTC is a critically important center in the School of Education and its impact puts into practice our vision to be a leader in responsive, needs-driven and research-based educational practices that transform the lives of those we serve in our communities, especially those who have been historically marginalized,” Daire said.

Both awards are Rehabilitation Research and Training Center grants that fund coordinated, integrated and advanced programs of research, training and information dissemination in topical areas specified by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. These centers conduct research to improve rehabilitation methodology and service delivery systems; improve health and functioning; and promote employment, independent living, family support, and economic and social self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.

Wehman is the founding editor of the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation. His background is highly interdisciplinary and he is internationally known for his pioneering work in the beginning of supported employment in 1980, a rehabilitation intervention strategy that has helped millions of people with neurodevelopmental disabilities, brain injury, mental illness and spinal cord injury in countries around the world to gain competitive employment for the first time.

“Dr. Wehman is a preeminent researcher in this field who has built the foundations of supported employment more than a quarter century ago and we are excited about how he is moving the field forward,” said David Cifu, M.D., chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

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VCUarts renames Fine Arts Building for first African American dean, Dr. Murry N. DePillars

In a ceremony Thursday, VCU unveiled the newly-renamed Murry N. DePillars Building and celebrated the life and legacy of the former dean, professional painter, and art historian whose leadership helped the school emerge as one of the largest art schools in the country.

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Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts (VCUarts) has renamed its Fine Arts Building for its first dean.

In a ceremony Thursday, VCU unveiled the newly-renamed Murry N. DePillars Building and celebrated the life and legacy of the former dean, professional painter, and art historian whose leadership helped the school emerge as one of the largest art schools in the country.

During the ceremony, VCU President Michael Rao, VCUarts Dean Carmenita Higginbotham, and Mrs. Mary DePillars, widow of the building’s namesake, gave commemoration remarks in the building’s atrium.

DePillars served as dean of VCUarts from 1976-1995, cultivating a period of immense growth and development and whose artwork and research have been exhibited and published throughout the country. He was also a major contributor to the Black Arts Movement, creating bold and daring depictions of what it meant to be Black in America, and was a founding member of the Chicago-based Black artists’ collective AfriCOBRA.

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Patrick Patrong named VMFA’s new Chief Diversity Officer

As Chief Diversity Officer, Assistant Deputy Director for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion and HR Strategic Initiatives, Patrong will assist in leading EDIA strategies defined in VMFA’s 2021-2025 Strategic Plan and co-lead the museum’s commitment to the ONE Virginia Plan recently launched by the Governor’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) and Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM).

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The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) has announced the appointment of Patrick Patrong to the position of Chief Diversity Officer, Assistant Deputy Director for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion and HR Strategic Initiatives. Patrong comes to VMFA with more than 25 years of experience as a public service leader.

Currently the lead facilitator for his consulting firm, Patrong Enterprises, Inc., he has also worked as Construction Training Manager for the Virginia Department of Transportation and Director of the Training, Education and Exercise Division for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. In addition, he led organizational diversity initiatives for seven professional schools of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, while serving as Director of Organization and Employee Development.

“Patrick has a solid background in implementing and managing diversity programs at several agencies in the public sector. We are delighted to have someone with his extensive experience joining the museum’s human resources team,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO. “Patrick will play a leading role taking VMFA’s EDIA initiatives to the next level and ensuring that the values of equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility are fully integrated into everything the museum does and shared with all VMFA employees.”

As Chief Diversity Officer, Assistant Deputy Director for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion and HR Strategic Initiatives, Patrong will assist in leading EDIA strategies defined in VMFA’s 2021-2025 Strategic Plan and co-lead the museum’s commitment to the ONE Virginia Plan recently launched by the Governor’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) and Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM).

For more than a decade, VMFA has actively worked to diversify its collection, exhibitions, staff and audience. Building on the success of its previous strategic plan, the museum strives to become a more vibrant, inclusive cultural leader. The museum’s current strategic plan demonstrates its commitment to the principles of equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility. VMFA’s vision is to be an institution that empowers all Virginians — through art and creativity — to reflect and connect to each other, their communities and the wider world.

“I am excited to join the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts team, to work with employees and the museum’s community on expanding the institutional EDIA initiatives. VMFA’s diverse organizational culture already has unique advantages when it comes to attracting diverse staff and visitors and developing museum exhibitions, art collections and programs that appeal to diverse communities,” said Patrong. “Communication, idea generation, creativity and connectivity are all enhanced through engagement with the museum’s representative communities.”

“Patrick’s knowledge and experience will help VMFA continue to advance towards instilling EDIA values and practices, becoming a more valuable and relevant community resource, and providing even greater access to the arts for all people in the Commonwealth,” said Kimberly Wilson, VMFA’s Chief Operating Officer and CHRO/Deputy Director for Human Resource Services, Museum Operations and Volunteers.

Patrong will begin his position at VMFA on July 26. For more information about VMFA’s strategic plan and EDIA initiatives visit www.VMFA.museum.

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PHOTOS: Cedarfield retirement community opens new $16 million apartment-style expansion

Cedarfield team members and residents have been working together to transition from an “institutional feel” to the Household model, joining a global health services and senior care movement. Household allows for greater emphasis on engaging residents individually by helping them continue their life pursuits as opposed to making them fit the mold of a traditional nursing home resident.

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Cedarfield, a Henrico County senior living retirement community, has completed the final leg of completion on a $100 million Cedarfield Master Plan Expansion project incorporating a person-centered approach that shapes the physical environment, organizational structure, and enhances interpersonal relationships for residents, family, and staff.

The $16 million, 16,000-square-foot, 40-apartment household facility features residential and industrial kitchens, newly designed dining spaces with multi-seating options, a formal area with a fireplace, family room, and private meeting areas. In addition to the amazing common spaces, every Household resident will enjoy a newly updated apartment, complete with private entryways and doorbells. While creating an atmosphere of genuine home, Household also provides residents with clear opportunities to direct their own lives.

“In this Household model, residents and team members are engaged every step of the way – from learning circles to determining the interests of individual residents, to planning, to implementing and running programs for the household,” says Cedarfield Associate Executive Director Matt Dameron.

Cedarfield team members and residents have been working together to transition from an “institutional feel” to the Household model, joining a global health services and senior care movement. Household allows for greater emphasis on engaging residents individually by helping them continue their life pursuits as opposed to making them fit the mold of a traditional nursing home resident.

“While there are team members in each Household that are primarily responsible for programming, the goal of this model is inclusivity,” says Dameron. He continued, “It could be large scale, such as leading a group program or cooking everyone a meal, to something as simple as sitting with a resident and sharing stories over a cup of coffee.”

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